Seante, House candidates sqaure off

Candidates in the 23rd Senatorial District Race and the PA House 111th District squared off Tuesday night in Montrose. From left: Luanna Cleveland, Sandra Major, Jeffrey Dahlander and Gene Yaw. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

Two state office incumbents squared off against their challengers Tuesday in Montrose fielding questions on natural gas drilling, the Voter ID law and fiscal issues.

Candidates in the 23rd Senatorial District race, incumbent Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Twp., and Luana Cleveland, of Williamsport, along with 111th House District candidates incumbent Sandra Major, R-Montrose and Democratic nominee Jeffrey Dahlander, New Milford, participated in the forum hosted by the Susquehanna County Chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Three of the eight questions posed by the League dealt with natural gas and alternative energy.

Addressing the question of the law’s Supreme Court challenge regarding local zoning, both incumbents Yaw and Major said that section of Act 13 was an attempt to bring consistency to oil and gas industry operations across the state in zoned and unzoned municipalities.

Cleveland said she opposed the Act 13 legislation because, she believed, it was “presented as a done deal.”

An assertion Dahlander seemed to also agree with. “It was formulated with the gas companies at the table. Legislation should be written for people not industry,” he said.

Yaw, who commented after Dahlander, pointed out that the state associations representing county commissioners, townships and boroughs were also at the table.

The LWV also asked candidates how they would strengthen regulations governing all aspects of the Marcellus gas industry.

Yaw said, “Act 13 does just that.”

He said the law introduced environmental controls, setbacks and bond regulations some of the “toughest in the United States.”

Those control, he said, include the reporting of all the components used in hydraulic fracturing fluid, including percentages.

Cleveland maintained the frack fluid reporting requirement is voluntary and that not all companies were reporting. She also advocated that the industry be required to use “best practices” and would like to see an end to well flaring.

Major indicated that the new environmental protections introduced in Act 13 held the industry to a higher standard than before. She also said the legislation now requires natural gas gathering lines of all classes be listed for the PA One-Call.

Dahlander warned that he feels DEP is understaffed. “A department is there to protect us and we fear these things are not taken care of for us,” he said.

Yaw and Major also spoke of taking advantage of the energy opportunities provided by the region’s natural gas.

Yaw spoke of increasing CNG availability in rural Pennsylvania and Leatherstocking Gas Corporation which was recently approved by the PUC to develop gas service in Susquehanna County.

Dahlander indicated he would like the state to move forward with projects focused on sustainability, such as green buildings and retrofitting schools to be green and more energy efficient.

Both Dahlander and Cleveland came out against the Voter ID law.

Dahlander focused on hardships placed on Susquehanna County’s rural voters where the Dept. of Transportation office is open only one day each week.

And Cleveland believed the law was designed as a tactic to intimidate potential voters.

“Keep in mind, the legislation impacts the entire state,” Major said and she spoke of a large number of voting irregularities in Philadelphia during the primary election. “I think America’s free and fair elections are worth protecting.”

Yaw said he would share the challenges rural voters faced with limited DOT office access with the Commonwealth and Transportation secretaries.

The League focused fiscal questions on increasing revenue to offset the state funding cuts that have already impacted local programs, such as Meals on Wheels, literacy and the county library.

Major said many of the governor’s proposed 2012-13 budget cuts were restored by the legislature without increasing taxes.

“In these difficult economic times, we can increase revenue by improving the economy through job creation,” Major said.

Her opponent proposed three ways to increase the state’s funding stream.

Dahlander advocated for the elimination of the “Delaware loophole;” replacing the impact fee with a severance tax; and a halt to tax breaks for large companies.

Yaw said the impact fee will bring $10 million into Susquehanna County this year. And, he added, school districts have the ability to raise an unlimited amount of money with voter approval.

The incumbent senator also said he had proposed legislation to provide for tax assessment on gas wells but the proposal received no support from schools.

Cleveland recommends extending taxes to all non-property owners in school districts.

Major is seeking her 10th term in office; Yaw is looking to be reelected to a second term.

Neither Dahlander nor Cleveland has held public office; this is the first race for both.